June 17 marks eight years of mourning the beautiful lives lost at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC at the hands of white supremacist. Still, our country has much to learn about anti-Black racism, hate, and violence.
Upon receiving the news in 2015 that Black parishioners were shot and killed by a white supremacist at their place of worship, a few of us poured into my SUV and traveled to Charleston, SC. I knew what it felt like to lose a loved one to hate. My father was killed by a white supremacist as he prepared for service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in 2012. Being so intimately impacted by hate ourselves, we understood the importance of bearing witness. Admittedly, many of us didn’t know what to expect when we would arrive. Our conversations in the car ride fluctuated in mood; frustration to sadness; appreciation to disgust; anxiety to determination. A plethora of emotions ran through us as it did the American public. Upon arrival at Emanuel A.M.E., we saw hundreds of people gathered right outside the church holding one another. Many of them were in a large semi-circle. As we joined, we were welcomed in and were made a part of the community mourning that day. Poems were read, testimonials shared, songs sang, hugs embraced, and communal dance enjoyed for all that gathered that day and the days following this horrific tragedy. To our surprise, the community that was present was not just mourning the lives lost but also celebrated life lived. It would be an experience that we would gain so much from.
However today it seems that we still have so much to learn when it comes to anti-Black hate in America. Since the FBI began tracking and reporting hate crimes in 1991, the Black community has been the most frequently targeted victims of hate crime year after year. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity,” noting that hate itself is not a crime because of first amendment and civil liberties protections.
Meeting the family members and leaders in the Black community who lost loved ones in the hate crime massacre at TOPS grocery store in Buffalo, NY has strengthened my resolve to do more to support communities who have been traumatized by racist hate.
Anti-black hate has long been an American tradition and what federal data clearly reveals is that it continues to terrorize our country and the Black experience. Its manifestation may look a bit veiled in contemporary times as compared to the past hatred and violence, but anti-Black racism continues to plague nearly every fabric of the American collective. It seems that Anti-Black racism has become so commonplace in our country that the only time we rise together in outrage is when the violence and pain threshold reaches a Buffalo or George Floyd level.
The American people can see the massive injustice of racism and have the capacity to mobilize. In 2020 after the blatant nine-minute slow murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, over 20 million people took to the streets in protest, acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. A year of reckoning took place as communities, schools and workplaces examined the impact of systemic racism. And then, the backlash began, as politicians used racist messaging to gather strength for themselves. Consider where we are now.
Over half a century since the Supreme Court outlawed segregated education, predominantly Black schools remain massively underfunded as compared to white suburban schools. How can we change these long term inequities if young people are prevented from learning about that history and the impact it has on modern society?
Studying the impact, and reality of systemic racism has been banned in many places, as state legislatures and local school districts forbid teachers from discussing racism or the history of Black slavery in their classrooms.
Police violence targeting Black people remains a pervasive fear and threat in communities across the country. The Department of Justice report on racist and abusive practices inside the Minneapolis police department presents a documented example of a broader regular practice that remains unchecked.
Racist hate speech online is spreading dramatically. Twitter provides one example. Slurs targeting Black Americans appear on Twitter 3,786 times a day, having tripled in the months since Elon Musk took over as CEO of the social media platform.
But what about the government, the social justice and the anti-hate movement? While there are definitely mentions of racialized hatred, the infrastructure of intentional anti-Black hate prevention is disproportionately underrepresented, and Black communities are underserved. Simply put, we are missing the voices of Black pain because Black pain is subconsciously normalized in the US, and even after Charleston and Buffalo, local and national infrastructure to respond to and help to heal the traumatic impact of hate in Black communities has not been intentionally developed and supported.
On June 18, 2015, we lost 9 beautiful souls; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), Tywanza Sanders (26), Cynthia Hurd (54), Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. (74), Rev. Depayne Middleton (49), Susie Jackson (87), Ethel Lee Lance (70), Myra Thompson (59) and Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney (41). If the Charleston community has taught me anything during my visit; it was the truth of life and death duality. That mourning must be accompanied with joy, and pain with hope. We must not simply stop at sadness for the lives lost but this sadness must be accompanied by providing life, resurrection, and resources.
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), Tywanza Sanders (26), Cynthia Hurd (54), Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. (74), Rev. Depayne Middleton (49), Susie Jackson (87), Ethel Lee Lance (70), Myra Thompson (59) and Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney (41) shown above.
Rev. Sharon Risher, who lost family and is the author of, “For Such A Time as This: Hope and Forgiveness in the Aftermath of the Charleston Massacre described the trail of the shooter, “When the killer was escorted into the courtroom, he never looked at us. He kept his head down and maintained a rigid posture throughout the proceedings. No movement. No sign of remorse. When I entered the courtroom for the first time and sat just fifteen feet from (name withheld), it felt like I was in the presence of pure evil.”
It is my fear that as a society we may have also come to mimic and somehow subconsciously condone the evils of white supremacy by negating the impact of Black pain.
We must do better. We can do better. As the second year of Juneteenth is observed, celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S. and the commemoration of the horrific hate crime attack in Charleston, we honor the lives of all who are impacted by racist hate by taking action in our everyday lives.
Outside of having compassion, we must have the courage to act. On June 16, 2023, US Attorney General Merrick Garland revealed the findings of the two-year probe on the Minneapolis Police Department. The report revealed that systemic racism goes much much further than George Floyd and intentional steps must be taken to rectify the department. The Minneapolis Police Department is not alone, and this is not just about policing. We must have the same courage to commit to action to end anti-black racism, violence, and hate. .
Please join us and learn about the many ways in which we can educate ourselves. Read more, learn more, and start a conversation at your dinner table, your school, workplace and community about how to stop anti-Black hate in the U.S.
- Updated FBI Hate Crimes Data: https://www.justice.gov/crs/highlights/2021-hate-crime-statistics
- Confronting Anti-Black Racism: https://thinktv.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/confronting-anti-black-racism/
- Building an Anti-racist Workplace: https://timesupfoundation.org/work/equity/guide-equity-inclusion-during-crisis/building-an-anti-racist-workplace/
- Feds slam Minneapolis Police Department over years of Racism and Excessive Force: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/06/16/investigation-of-minneapolis-police-garland-remarks